President-elect George W. Bush made his first appointments on Saturday. The selection of retired Gen. Colin Powell for Secretary of State and Stanford Professor Condoleezza Rice for National Security Adviser are impressive and speak volumes about the kind of team Mr. Bush wants to assemble. Mr. Bush additionally named Alberto R. Gonzales, a Texas Supreme Court justice, as White House counsel. Asked yesterday at the Texas governor’s mansion whether these “minority” appointments sent a message to the nation, Mr. Bush answered in the affirmative. The message? That this country offers great opportunities to those who work hard and make the right choices in life. That’s all.
Now, there are those who have reservations about the appointment of Mr. Powell. These reservations are primarily rooted in Mr. Powell’s conduct of the Persian Gulf War, which as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs he supervised, despite his initial opposition to the war. What’s more, he is often blamed for its inconclusive outcome. The secretary of state designate has also given name to the Powell Doctrine, which holds that the U.S. military should only be called upon when overwhelming force can be deployed and where there is an exit strategy. These are important issues and have to be addressed in Mr. Powell’s Senate confirmation hearings. Conservatives have also wondered whether Miss. Rice, who worked at the National Security Council under Brent Scowcroft, is not beset by her mentor’s way of thinking. She should welcome the opportunity to explain her own views in hearings on her post.
On the plus side, Mr. Powell will inject much needed aspect of seriousness and authority into U.S. foreign policy. Unlike Madeleine Albright, presumably Mr. Powell will not sing duos with Russian prime ministers, do the hula with North Korean school children or run after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in high heels and demand that he come back and sit down.
Given their accomplishments, Mr. Powell’s and Miss Rice’s appointments are obviously not the result of Clinton-style bean counting. In an odd way, perhaps that is why the nation’s black leaders, still angry and smarting from Vice President Gore’s loss, sadly have failed to applaud them. In an interview with The Washington Times editorial page this fall, Miss Rice explained why she had switched from the Democratic Party to the Republicans. “I am a Republican because I believe in the power of individuals,” she said. “I believe in the the power of the markets, I believe in small government and in placing family first. My values are conservative values. The color of you eyes or you skin should not matter… I got very tired of being a Democrat and found that I was only asked to speak on minority issues.” Mr. Bush has shown that he wants competent people around him, judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. That’s a good start.